Selling (the) Sunset: How Rose Bowl acquiescing to BCS carved path to expanded College Football Playoff

The accountants at ABC Sports had spoken. There would be no new money for a Rose Bowl extension. In the mid-1990s, sports television revenue was booming … but just not enough at that moment in a Pasadena, California, hotel ballroom. ABC Sports executives Tony Petitti and Dennis Swanson had flown across the country to deliver what was not necessarily bad news but rather no news for their partners. 

Awaiting in that ballroom just minutes from the grand-old stadium itself were eager executives from the Pac-10, Big Ten and Rose Bowl. The relationship had been college football’s version of titanium — an unbreakable bond since the champions of the two leagues began playing in the Rose Bowl in 1947.

But bean counters being bean counters, it wasn’t a good time for the Rose Bowl to expect more money. The two leagues were already splitting $11.5 million in rights fees.

“We flew out there with empty pockets with no real idea about what to talk about,” recalled Petitti, now commissioner of the Big Ten, about that 1995 meeting.

Some of the most powerful administrators in college sports were floored. Petitti and Swanson dropped a bomb on them that contained no explosives … and even less money.

The ABC Sports executives were told to wait in a hallway while the room digested what just happened. When then-Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany emerged, they were told the only issue discussed was how to throw them out of the building.

“Then they proceeded to tell us how disappointed they were,” Petitti said. “That was the end of the meeting.”

That tight circle was a paradigm of the crossroads in which college football found itself a quarter century ago. It also served as a birthplace, of sorts, as the sport celebrates the 26th anniversary of its…


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